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ONC Still Needs Help

The clock is ticking, and Our Neighbor's Child (ONC) volunteers are scrambling to get enough toys and gift cards so more than 2,000 children in the local area will have something to open on Christmas.

But it's not easy. With 711 families in Centreville, Chantilly and Clifton needing help, this grassroots, nonprofit group is really counting on local residents to take ornaments off the ONC giving trees (see list, page 48), buy the needed gifts and return them by the deadline so they may be packaged next week.

Said ONC's packaging lead, Kathy Sposa: "Every ornament that's not selected is a gift that child isn't getting."

Kelly Lavin, the group's executive director, says the need this year is greater than ever. And according to a new survey conducted by Catholic Charities USA, that seems to be the case nationwide. Increasing numbers of the working poor are seeking aid and need food, monetary and clothing contributions just to stay afloat.

That's why, said Lavin, "Donations are key. We will turn them into gift certificates for families who missed the deadline for packaging. Any ornament that isn't taken is something we have to buy — which limits our ability to help any new, last-minute families."

Also, anyone who's "adopted" a family for clothing purchases through ONC volunteer Tracy McInturff only has until this Sunday, Dec. 10, to get it to her.

Sposa, of Sully Estates, is in charge of the team that calls all the recipient families to find out what they need. Then each of those gift items is listed on an ornament on a giving tree.

She sometimes encounters language barriers or disconnected phones so, if necessary, she then tries to contact the families via school counselors. But, said Sposa, "It's really rewarding to know we'll provide some awesome experiences for a lot of kids who otherwise would have nothing."

IT CAN BE a daunting task, though, with lots of anxious moments — especially when the presents children have asked for haven't yet been contributed. For example, said Sposa, "This year, we have 84 kids who have asked for bikes." Anyone who would like to donate a new bike for a child may e-mail her at Sposafamily@aol.com.

People who'd like to help with the gigantic packaging effort next Thursday, Dec. 14, anytime between 9 a.m.-5 p.m., may also contact her at that address. "Everybody comes for a couple hours — whatever works for them," she said.

She's been an integral part of ONC for 13 years and keeps returning because she loves it so much. "It's part of my Christmas," said Sposa. "I can't decorate if I'm not making calls in between for Our Neighbor's Child. I know our family will have a beautiful Christmas and, now, so will others."

Virginia Run's Lori Gibson has been with ONC since the beginning, 15 years ago and says it's "great to be part of a community that helps people in need." She's in charge of picking up all the gifts contributed to the giving trees in the churches.

"We'll start collecting them this Sunday, Dec. 10, after church services," said Gibson. "Some churches have over 200 giving-tree ornaments, so we may come back with that many presents from each of them. I have six or seven volunteers to help me, and we'll spend Sunday and Monday doing it."

She said the hardest part is coordinating the pick ups and making all her phone calls to the churches and the volunteers because each church needs a different pick-up time.

But it's worth it in the end, said Gibson, "just seeing that so many people are so giving at Christmastime and want to help and give to children and families. The best part of my job is everyone's generosity."

Regina O'Shaughnessy of Virginia Run also plays an important role as lead shopper. She's been with ONC for eight or nine years and is in her fourth year heading up the shopping effort.

"I JUST FEEL like it's a little bit of my time to help a wonderful cause and so many children and families," she explained. "Before packaging day, I go out with ONC treasurer Karen Moore, and we buy teen-ager gifts, because it's harder to fulfill their needs. So we buy gifts cards and things like makeup, lotion, jewelry and wallets. Then we bring them to the warehouse."

Then, on packaging day, itself, O'Shaughnessy has eight to 10 volunteers who spend about four hours shopping for still more gifts: "As each family's package [of gifts] is put together, if we find something specific that was requested but hasn't been purchased — such as a particular toy or video game — we'll go out and buy it and bring it back."

She said it's sometimes tough finding exactly what the child asked for but, if it's just not possible, they try to get something that's a good substitute.

So what gives O'Shaughnessy the most satisfaction as an ONC team member? "The spirit of helping and giving and working with the volunteers," she said. "And I love to see how generous the community is with their time and gifts. It's very uplifting, and I think it really shows the spirit of Christmas."

To Help: Needed are $20 gift cards for clothing or other items. E-mail Karen Moore at KK1MO@aol.com or send checks to Our Neighbor’s Child, P.O. Box 276, Centreville, VA 20120.